Lullaby & Lament

The Coventry Carol is a song I usually post after Christmas because it is sung by the women of Bethlehem to their children, slain by decree of an enraged Herod. The carol was written in the sixteenth century for The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors in Coventry. The pageant that told the story of the birth of Jesus, beginning with the Annunciation and ending with the killing of the little boys of Bethlehem.1

After the horrific killing of the children in Newtown I decided to post it today—Coventry Carol is both lullaby and lament, a mourning song of heartbreak for the loss of beloved children.

Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more.”
Matthew 2:16-18

Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Ofttimes reasons for suffering are beyond ourselves and our understanding, and if we as Christians can only declare the truth from the shelter of a hothouse environment, then it will only be good for those who are privileged to live in hothouses. But Christ came, not to a place of shelter, but to a shattered and sinful world, and we live in that world and we speak His Gospel to that world. We demonstrate an authenticity to others when we don’t hand out platitudes, but instead, with love, identify with them and in our patience and endurance point them to God who is full of compassion and mercy. We serve as lights, you and I, when our perseverance and trust in God in the midst of our own anguish bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel is tough, tough enough for our darkest days and deepest needs. Even as it was for the Pilgrims, our utter dependence on God must not be mere words, but the reality of our lives so that others may know, “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”2
1Coventry Carol: The Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
Video by Lutevoice: Valeria Mignaco & Alfonso Marin, soprano-lute duo.
2The Hiding Place, Betsie ten Boom to her sister Corrie while they were in the Ravensbrück concentration camp.


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